Humility | The Voice 11.38: September 19, 2021

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Humility

Humility is one of the more difficult forms of virtue to manifest. The Greeks thought humility to be weakness and did not consider it a virtue; the world, by in large, maintains that assessment. Those who exalt themselves, prove arrogant, and manifest confidence seem to get ahead more than those who maintain humility and do not exalt themselves. So it is in our superficial world. And yet, Jesus humbled Himself. When man is confronted with some manifestation of the glory of God, the natural and instantaneous reaction is to fall on one’s face and to declare one’s worthlessness.

Isaiah, when confronted with the glory of God, exclaims the following in Isaiah 6:5:

Then said I, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, YHWH of hosts.”

As Ezekiel sees a heavenly vision, his reaction is recorded in Ezekiel 1:28:

As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of YHWH. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake.

In the New Testament, as Jesus is transfigured, appears with Moses and Elijah, and the voice of God speaks, the response of Peter, James, and John is recorded in Matthew 17:6:

And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid.

By now we can see a consistent pattern: when we are confronted with even a slight manifestation of the glory of God, our utter nothingness as dust is made very clear, and all we can do is fall down on our faces and cry out how unimportant and nothing we are.

While we have little chance of having such a manifestation made to us while in the flesh, we must recognize that we are always in the presence of God. We have association with God, and He desires to hear our petitions (1 John 1:3, 1 Peter 3:12). The awesomeness of that fact should constantly humble us. We are but dirt; we have the opportunity to serve the living God. We would do well to have the attitude of the servants described in Luke 17:7-10:

“But who is there of you, having a servant plowing or keeping sheep, that will say unto him, when he is come in from the field, ‘Come straightway and sit down to meat’; and will not rather say unto him, ‘Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink?’ Doth he thank the servant because he did the things that were commanded? Even so ye also, when ye shall have done all the things that are commanded you, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which it was our duty to do.'”

Our goal is to be obedient servants (Romans 6:16-18); that demands a position of humility, and we should be more than willing to accept it.

Jesus Christ, of course, is the ultimate example of humility. As it is written:

Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross. Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11).

Let us strive to digest this passage for just a moment. God the Son was God. He was in the heavenly places. He willingly took on the form of a man. Not only did He humble Himself by being a man, He was a man of no esteem: the supposed son of a carpenter in the backwoods of Galilee (cf. Isaiah 53:2-3). Not only was He not a man of much esteem, He was never rich according to the standards of men, nor did He have much of a formal education (John 7:15). He taught the people, healed them of disease, did many other works, and for it was unjustly reviled and condemned, to die the worst kind of death that mankind could ever devise. Who can believe such a thing? It is small wonder that Paul speaks about how God has made void the wisdom of the world (1 Corinthians 1:17-20)! Because of His great humility, God raised Jesus and exalted His name above every name, to the glory of God the Father.

In the world, to be exalted you must exalt yourself. In the Kingdom of God, you must humble yourself if you desire exaltation on the final day (Matthew 23:12). This is counter-intuitive yet entirely necessary.

Let us consider the ultimate example of Christ’s humility: washing the disciples’ feet in John 13:1-17. In the ancient world, there was no lowlier position than the servant assigned to wash people’s feet, and yet here is the Lord of the Universe washing the feet of His disciples, a group known to not understand the purpose of Jesus and constantly bickering over who was the greatest. His lesson is made manifest in John 13:12-17:

So when he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and sat down again, he said unto them, “Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me, Teacher, and, Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, a servant is not greater than his lord; neither one that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, blessed are ye if ye do them.”

We often speak of humility in terms of a “heart issue”: one must have it in one’s heart to be lowly, and such is certainly a part of humility. Jesus, however, tells us that humility is also manifested in our deeds: as He has served us, we therefore should serve others. That is what Jesus taught the disciples, and such is what Paul taught later disciples in Romans 15:2-3:

Let each one of us please his neighbor for that which is good, unto edifying. For Christ also pleased not himself; but, as it is written,
“The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell upon me.”

Humility is not an easy tendency for most of us: we have a natural desire to elevate oneself, especially when we go about doing good. By serving others, however, it is easier to have our hearts in the right place. We must constantly remember that we serve a great and awesome God, and that we are as nothing before Him. We must keep the example of our Lord in mind, recognizing that if we humble ourselves we can be exalted on the last day. Let us consider Galatians 6:3-4:

For if a man thinketh himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let each man prove his own work, and then shall he have his glorying in regard of himself alone, and not of his neighbor.

Let us consider ourselves properly, and let us be as unprofitable servants, doing only that which we are supposed to do, and all boasting and glory are Christ’s for His love and His suffering on our behalf.

Ethan R. Longhenry

Humility | The Voice 11.38: September 19, 2021

Walking in the Name of YHWH | The Voice 11.37: September 12, 2021

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Walking in the Name of YHWH

The short-term forecast for Israel and Judah remained bleak: terrifying judgment on account of their idolatry, oppression, and other sins. Yet YHWH would remain faithful to His people; they would again walk in His name.

The Word of YHWH had come to Micah of Moresheth in the eighth century BCE; Micah 1:1-3:12 primarily presented YHWH’s indictment of Israel and Judah and warning regarding imminent judgment at the hands of the Assyrians. Some hope for future restoration had been extended in Micah 2:12-13. The rest of the Word of YHWH through Micah would present more hope yet also plenty of indictments, judgment, and woe for Israel and Judah (Micah 4:1-7:20).

Micah envisioned Zion as the most important mountain, to which people from many nations would come in order to learn the ways of YHWH. YHWH would judge among the people and they would turn weapons into farm implements (Micah 4:1-3; cf. Isaiah 2:2-4). Peace and prosperity would come for the nations, for YHWH had decreed it; other nations might serve their gods, but Israel should follow YHWH forever (Micah 4:4-5). YHWH would gather the disabled and the marginalized on that day and make a new nation of them; He would reign over them on Zion; Zion’s dominion would return (Micah 4:6-8).

But for now Jerusalem would groan: their king would disappear, and their pain and suffering would be great (Micah 4:9). They would go to Babylon, but YHWH would rescue them (Micah 4:10). Nations have gathered against Zion for violence and humiliation, but YHWH would defeat them and would crush many nations (Micah 4:11-13). They would first suffer siege and be struck on the face (Micah 5:1).

Micah then extended hope for Israel from Bethlehem, a place seemingly small in Judah, yet from which the King would emerge and rule over Israel (Micah 5:2). YHWH would hand His people over to their enemies until this King would be born; Israel would be re-unified; the King would shepherd Israel; they would live in security, and the King would be honored throughout the world and provide peace (Micah 5:3-4). If the Assyrians would invade, Israel would send rulers to rule over Assyria, the land of Nimrod, and their King would rescue Israel from any Assyrian invasion (Micah 5:5-6). Israelites would live in the midst of many nations and be as dew and as lions in the forest, not dependent on humanity but able to attack and strike; their enemies would be destroyed (Micah 5:7-9). YHWH would destroy Israel’s chariots, horses, cities, sorcery, and idols to cleanse His people from their sins (Micah 5:10-15).

But for the moment the people needed to again hear YHWH’s indictment (Micah 6:1-2). YHWH wanted to know how He had wronged His people or wearied them; He had rescued them from slavery and provided for them in the midst of enemies (Micah 6:3-5; cf. Exodus 1:1-Numbers 36:13).

Micah asked what he would need to bring in order to stand before YHWH: burnt offerings, rams, oil, his own firstborn child for sin and rebellion (Micah 6:6-7)? Micah said YHWH had told Israel what is good and what He desired from them: to do justice, love covenant loyalty, and live obediently before God (Micah 6:8).

YHWH spoke again to Jerusalem: He would not stand idly by while they use corrupt scales, commit violence, and lie to one another for dishonest gain (Micah 6:9-11). He would strike them terribly: they would eat but not find satisfaction; they would plant crops but not enjoy the harvest; they would work olives and grapes but not enjoy the fruit of that labor, for they have gone in the way of Omri and Ahab, and will thus be made a horror and a mockery among the nations (Micah 6:12-16; cf. 1 Kings 16:16-21:29).

Micah lamented his own suffering: he considered himself as harvesters with nothing to harvest (Micah 7:1). The faithful and godly have disappeared; everyone committed sin, did evil, and did not profit for righteousness (Micah 7:2-4). No one could trust anyone else; even one’s own spouse could not be trusted with secrets; family dynamics have been thoroughly disrupted, and a person’s enemies are in his or her own family (Micah 7:5-6). Micah would yet watch and wait for YHWH, assured He would hear (Micah 7:7). Micah warned his enemies to not boast over him, because he might have fallen and sits in darkness, but he would get up, and YHWH would be His light (Micah 7:8). We get the impression Micah is speaking for his people now, for he then spoke of how he must endure the anger of YHWH on account of his sin, yet he remained confident that YHWH would defend him and accomplish justice (Micah 7:9). His enemies would see this and be filled with shame. They may now ask where YHWH has gone, but they would eventually be trampled (Micah 7:10). Jerusalem would be rebuilt; Israel’s boundaries would be extended; people would come to Israel from Assyria, Egypt, the coasts, and the mountains (Micah 7:11-12). The earth would suffer desolation because of what its people did (Micah 7:13). Micah wanted God to shepherd His people and allow them to graze again in Israel; he wanted God to accomplish miraculous deeds as He did for their ancestors in Egypt; the nations would see and their strength would fail; they would humble themselves before YHWH (Micah 7:14-17).

Micah’s message concluded by asking who was a God like YHWH, forgiving sin, pardoning rebellion, a God who is not angry forever, but demonstrates covenant loyalty; a God who will have mercy on His people and will overthrow their sins (Micah 7:18-19). Micah remained confident in YHWH’s covenant loyalty to Abraham and Jacob according to the oath He made in ancient times (Micah 7:20).

All of what Micah foretold would come to pass. The Assyrians would devastate Israel and most of Judah, but would be humbled at the gates of Jerusalem; Judah would later go into exile in Babylon; the people would return to the land of Judah, but also many would remain dispersed among the nations. A King would arise from Bethlehem, Jesus of Nazareth, and He would be the Good Shepherd of the people of God, and reigns forever over His Kingdom of which there will be no end. YHWH proved faithful to His promises.

Yet people to this day continue to persist in iniquity; corruption and oppression remain. Trust proves difficult. Many wonder what they need to do in order to please God, if there even is a God; many others imagine God has wronged or wearied them. We therefore can gain much from YHWH’s word to Micah. If we want to please God, we must do what is just and right, love covenant loyalty, and live obediently before Him; we must wait patiently for Him, because He will judge the wicked and will be exalted in righteousness and holiness. We do well to come to heavenly Zion and learn of the God of Israel, to walk in His name, and obtain eternal life through Jesus His Son. May we trust in God in Christ and share in the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Walking in the Name of YHWH | The Voice 11.37: September 12, 2021

Peril of Science | The Voice 11.36: September 05, 2021

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

The Peril of Science and Technology

Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1).

Our society tells itself a comforting story of progress: people consider the many scientific and technological advancements over the past three hundred years and tend to focus on the positive results. It seems hard to argue too much: at no point in human history has daily life been so thoroughly transformed in such a short time. The narrative of progress is a very tempting one, yet with it comes the great peril of science and technology: knowledge all too easily leads to arrogance.

The premise of “progress” itself lends itself to arrogance. If we have “progressed,” it must mean that we are better than those who came before us. For untold generations people presumed that people of olden times lived better, proved wiser, and enjoyed a better time than those in the present. Today the situation is exactly reversed: people today are confident they live better, prove wiser, and enjoy better times now than their ancestors did in the past. We have so much greater understanding of things; we enjoy a higher quality of life, at least in material terms, than did our ancestors; we tend to live longer. The failures and limitations of our ancestors have been exposed and even magnified in light of current developments and understanding. Doubtless there are many things we understand better than our ancestors did; yet is it possible that our ancestors understood other things better than we do? No doubt many of our ancestors would have greatly appreciated the higher quality of life we enjoy in material terms, but would they prove willing to abandon the sense of community, camaraderie, and inter-connectedness they enjoyed which we have lost? Our ancestors sinned and transgressed in many ways; do we think we have escaped such transgression, or is it that we are blind to the logs in our own eyes while very perceptive of the specks in the eyes of our ancestors? We presume that modern life is “progress” at our peril: modern life is certainly different, and comes with some benefits, but that does not mean that modern life is “better.” The Preacher is wise: time is cyclical; what has been will be; there is nothing truly new under the sun; yet to say the former days were better than these is not according to wisdom (Ecclesiastes 1:2-9, 7:10). We can appreciate the differences in modern life that make it better while critiquing and lamenting those differences that have made life worse.

Expansion of scientific knowledge and development of technology has led to great and unjustified arrogance. It did not have to be this way: we can imagine a world in which scientists and innovators recognize the divine order of things and in humility seek to gain better understanding of the creation in order to glorify and honor their Creator. Instead we live in a society which two centuries ago decided to assume a mostly “dead” universe with life as the great exception as opposed to the previous model in which the universe was understood as alive and made for life. Therefore those who have gained greater understanding of science and technology are all too easily tempted to believe they have become the masters of the universe. They seek to learn so they can control and manipulate; whenever humans have attempted to learn so as to control and manipulate, they have established a culture of death. And so it is today: with our fossil fuel driven economy we oppress the creation, over-exploit its resources, create deserts, and call them paradises. Far too many scientists, and those trained to believe in a scientific mindset, have given themselves over to scientism, presuming that science and the scientific method is the means by which to explain everything. Thus they presume God cannot exist because He does not fit in the box of their scientific methods; they try to explain everything based upon what can be ascertained through scientific exploration. They have thus created a diminished desert of life and call it paradise, because their desert is at least ordered according to their specifications of what they can understand. We hear continual stories out of Silicon Valley of men and women who believe that the technology they develop is The Answer to All Our Problems, and who consider themselves as gods upon the earth. They have gained great wealth from their innovations and thus they presume they can run the world. They imagine that all the world’s problems can be solved with just better application of technological know-how. No matter what, in such a view, there is always better living through science and technology.

Far too many blind themselves by such delusions. The scientific endeavor is good, even excellent, in its appropriate sphere; yet much of life, especially the parts of life worth living, cannot be reduced to biological impulses and what can be explained by science. Scientism, almost by necessity, leads to an Epicurean posture: life is meaningless; thus, we should do all we can to avoid pain and enjoy life responsibly. Ancient Greeks proved wiser than modern man: they recognized that Epicureanism was a possibility, but did not presume it was the given or default philosophical posture, and appreciated many other perspectives. Beauty, meaning, and truth give life its value, and none of these can be fully appreciated through a purely scientific perspective; when one hears that altruism and the humanitarian impulse is deemed to be an evolutionary misfire, one should surely see the diminishment of humanity and the dullness of imagination left to us in such a purely materialistic perspective. Just as science cannot explain all things, technology cannot fix all of our problems. In fact, technology creates problems as it might fix others. Can you remember the halcyon days when it was imagined that social media would be a means by which humans would be able to come together and share in life together despite physical distance and be a force for good? It did not take long before the pursuit of money made it more profitable to use social media to tear people apart and to fear The Other and reinforce tribal allegiances. Now many who helped set up social media are filled with lament and regret. As it went with social media, so it goes with all sorts of science and technology. All such knowledge and development are morally neutral: they are tools. They can be used for good or for evil. Unfortunately, people with the best of intentions become so dazzled with the possibilities for good that they dismiss and prove blind to the equally likely possibilities such tools possess for evil until it is too late. People become so enamored with the idea of progress they forget they have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory and maintain a propensity to sin. In our attempt to become masters through science and technology we become enslaved and entrapped to what we have made; we may dominate for a season, but may find ourselves undone by the consequences of our domination.

In all such things we can perceive the hand and judgment of God, and He is right, just, and holy to do so. Ever since Babel man has arrogated himself against God and His purposes, and every time man has ultimately found himself frustrated. “Civilization” and “progress” prove thin veneers, easily penetrated by danger, disaster, and distress; for all we have learned about the universe and our technological advancements, we have not made much “progress” regarding metaphysics and philosophy, and “the good life” remains as elusive as ever. We might be more comfortable physically, yet agonize and suffer greatly mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as we become more isolated through our science and technology.

There was a time when people could look upon three hundred years of advancement, what they deemed to be a great and refined time of civilization, and had every reason to imagine it would go on forever. That time was the Roman Empire of the middle of the second century, and their way of life did not go on forever. They may have felt as if they had progressed, but a time would come when they would “regress.” We do not prove as different from them as we might like to think. Knowledge makes arrogant; science and technology can be wonderfully effective servants, but they make for despotic and terrible gods. May we recognize the peril that can arise from overconfidence and overreliance in science and technology, glorify God as God and use science and technology in ways which honor His purposes, and find life in the resurrection in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Peril of Science | The Voice 11.36: September 05, 2021

Phoenicia | The Voice 11.35: August 29, 2021

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Phoenicia

Ethnically they were a Canaanite people; they spoke a Canaanite language; they worshiped and served the Canaanite pantheon of gods. Jezebel, architect of Israel’s service to Baal, was among their number. Based on what was written in Deuteronomy, one might imagine Israel was to devote such a people to destruction. And yet throughout the period of the kings Israel and Judah maintained at least cordial relations, if not outright alliances, with the cities of Phoenicia. How was this possible? What made the Phoenicians different?

The ancient land of Phoenicia lay on the narrow coastal strip of land from the Mediterranean Sea to the west and the Anti-Lebanon Mountains to the east, and from Arwad in the north to Acre in the south, primarily in today’s Lebanon. The Greeks called the people of the land Phoiníkē; it may come from the Phoenicians’ own term for themselves (ponnim; the land they called put), or from the purple dye which the Phoenicians manufactured from the murex shell for which they were famous throughout the Mediterranean world. The Greeks, as well as many Lebanese to this day, believed the Phoenicians originally came from the civilization of Dilmun in modern-day Bahrain; modern genetic analysis, however, confirms that the Phoenicians were a Canaanite people with extremely ancient origins in the land.

From beginning to end the Phoenicians represented a collection of city-states who relied heavily on trade and industry: Tyre, Sidon, Byblos, Beirut, Baalbek, and many others. Phoenicia is very much like much of Greece: mountainous with a rugged coastline punctuated by a few small natural ports. They did not have much land suitable for farming; the closest such land to their southeast was first controlled by other Canaanite city-states, and later by the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Their survival was thus dependent on their ability to trade and manufacture goods.

Both Egypt and the Mesopotamian civilizations maintained significant interest in Phoenicia on account of the cedars of Lebanon since their lands did not feature many such trees; the cedars of Lebanon were highly prized in Scripture and used in building Solomon’s palace and Temple (1 Kings 5:1-18, 7:1-13, Psalm 104:16, Song of Solomon 5:15, Ezekiel 31:3, Hosea 14:5, etc.). Phoenician contacts likely strongly influenced Minoan and thus Mycenaean Greek civilizations; Phoenicia, especially Tyre, Sidon, and above all Byblos, was incorporated into the Egyptian Empire from the days of Thutmose III until its decline under the Ramessids of the twelfth century BCE.

Few people benefitted as much from the collapse of the large empires and civilizations of the Late Bronze Age as did the Phoenicians. Mycenaean Greek and Egyptian power diminished; beginning around 1230 the Phoenicians experienced a kind of resurgence and renewal and began to take over the primary sea routes in the eastern Mediterranean. Within a few centuries they would expand their seafaring and trade connections throughout the entire Mediterranean basin, a near monopolistic position they would maintain for most of the first millennium BCE. Ezekiel testified to the extent of their trading network at the height of their influence in Ezekiel 27:5-25: from modern day Spain and Morocco in the west to Turkey, Mesopotamia, and the Arabian tribes in the east. They established colonies to facilitate trade throughout the Mediterranean from Cyprus to Marseilles and “Tarshish,” or Spain; the most famous and prominent such colony the Tyrians called “Kart-hadash,” or Carthage, in modern-day Tunisia; likely founded in the ninth century BCE, Carthage would eventually rule over an economic empire dominating the western Mediterranean basin until defeated thrice by the Romans in the third and second centuries BCE. Punic, the Canaanite based language of the Carthaginians, was still spoken there in the days of Augustine of Hippo in the fifth century CE.

Throughout their days the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah maintained an alliance of convenience with the Phoenicians. Despite having territory along the Mediterranean Sea the Israelites never became a seafaring people; successful Israelite forays into seafaring generally took place with Phoenician assistance (cf. 1 Kings 9:26-28). Thus Israel and Judah were dependent on the Phoenicians for all sorts of merchandise and goods from across the Mediterranean and Near Eastern worlds. The Phoenicians had little arable land, which Israel and Judah had in abundance (cf. Ezekiel 27:17). The Phoenicians were thus dependent on Israel and Judah for food. Their mutual dependence on one another reinforced their alliance which seems to have been maintained from the days of David until the demise of the Israelite and Judahite kingdoms.

Hiram I of Tyre was an ally of David and Solomon, sent Lebanese cedar and workmen to Solomon so he could build the Temple and his palace, and also assisted Solomon’s ships in their journey to Ophir (ca. 950-935 BCE; 2 Samuel 5:10, 1 Kings 5:1-18, 9:27-29); he expanded Tyrian power and for a moment set up the closest thing Phoenicia ever saw to a unified state. Jezebel, scourge of Israel, was daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians; Elijah’s condemnation of her did not extend to the house of her father (1 Kings 16:31). The prophets of Israel prophesied distress and doom for the Phoenicians as they did most of the other nations around Israel, particularly for their wealth and presumption (Isaiah 23:1-18, Ezekiel 26:1-28:26, Joel 3:4, Amos 1:9-10, Zechariah 9:2-3).

The Phoenicians found it increasingly difficult to maintain political autonomy as the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians developed their empires. Tiglath-pileser III annexed half of Phoenicia as part of the Neo-Assyrian Empire; Sargon II and Esarhaddon would violently suppress later rebellions, with the latter destroying Sidon in the process (ca. 744-650). Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon famously besieged Tyre for thirteen years, yet unsuccessfully (587-575; cf. Ezekiel 26:1-28:19, 29:17-21). After the Babylonians exiled the Judahites and Philistines, the Phoenicians likely colonized the Levantine coast down to Gaza. The Phoenicians decided to accommodate themselves to Persian rule and were richly rewarded for doing so; they maintained considerable autonomy and maintained their maritime hegemony. The navy with which Xerxes attacked the Greeks came from the Phoenicians and the Egyptians. The king of Sidon rebelled against Artaxerxes III and Sidon was destroyed, leaving Tyre as the primary Phoenician city until it was besieged successfully by Alexander the Great after a seven month siege and most of its inhabitants having fled to Carthage. The Greeks thought highly of the Phoenicians and the Seleucids continued to allow the Phoenicians to maintain some autonomy and their maritime connections with their western colonies. Phoenicia would eventually come under the sway of the Romans and was incorporated as part of the province of Syria; Jesus visited Tyre and Sidon and there healed the daughter of the Syro-phoenician woman, and also used Tyre and Sidon as representatives of pagans who would have repented had they heard what had been proclaimed in the cities of Galilee (Matthew 11:21-22, 15:21-28). The Romans both devastated the Phoenician colony of Carthage and its empire as well as the political autonomy of Phoenicia itself, and the Phoenicians assimilated into the greater Roman milieu.

The Phoenicians proved adept at sailing; they are responsible for the development of the keel, the bireme, and the trireme, the last of which would become the standard vessel in the Mediterranean for the rest of antiquity. They also developed the amphora, which remained the standard measure and means of transporting liquid goods for two thousand years, as well as self-cleaning ports and the beginnings of admiralty law. The Phoenicians kept the Mediterranean and Near Eastern world together: the portrayal of Ezekiel 27:5-25 testifies to their influence, and they are credited with adapting the Proto-Sinaitic/Canaanite glyphs into what would be called the Phoenician alphabet, the basis upon which the Greeks and Romans would develop their alphabetic signs which we use to this day. They also would have transmitted religious ideology, cultural artifacts and concepts, and other such things. The Greeks and Romans would build upon the existing trade network of the Phoenicians. Yet the Phoenicians also proved adept in industry: they developed or built upon existing techniques for glass-making, metalwork, and woodwork, and manufactured the purple dye which indicated high standing and royalty throughout antiquity. The Phoenicians were also likely the reason wine and viticulture spread throughout the Mediterranean world.

Thus the Phoenicians might have been Canaanite in origin, ethnicity, language, and religion, but by necessity developed a culture and industry quite distinct from their inland relatives. Manufactured and traded goods from the Phoenicians proved very important for the Israelites and Judahites. Many aspects of what would become Western civilization developed on the basis of Phoenician goods and ideas. Yet judgment came for the Phoenicians as it did for all nations. We do well to learn from them and not trust in our ability to trade and prosper economically, but to trust in God in Christ in all things!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Works Consulted

Phoenicia“(accessed 2021/08/26).

Phoenicia | The Voice 11.35: August 29, 2021

Hebrews 10:25 | The Voice 11.34: August 22, 2021

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Handling Hebrews 10:25 Rightly

The Lord’s people recognize the importance and power of coming together as the ekklesia, the assembly, or church, of Christ. By all accounts the earliest Christians learned the value and importance of the assembly from the instruction and example of the Apostles: they set forth what the Lord had decreed, in word and deed, regarding the assembling of God’s people in Christ, and early Christians followed the traditions as given to them (e.g. Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, 14:1-40). Assembling, for Christians, is so normative that we do not even see it given as a command: the Apostles only bring up matters of the assembly as reminders in exhortation, or more generally, to correct unhealthy and sinful patterns of behavior manifest in the assembly (1 Corinthians 11:17-34, 14:1-40). After all, what kind of assembly is there that does not assemble?

Yet this has posed a challenge for Christians as they seek to establish Biblical authority and provide exhortation in the faith; it can be difficult, and wordy, to explain how the assembling of the saints was a regular habit of early Christians, taking place at least weekly on the first day of the week by approved apostolic example, and thus highly encouraged. Therefore, a “shorthand” has developed: the appeal to Hebrews 10:25 as the authority and basis upon which we insist for every Christian to assemble on the first day of the week with their fellow Christians as the local church and participate in the acts of the assembly, and thus that every local church meet every week for an assembly:

Not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day drawing nigh.

Hebrews 10:25 does represent a very important verse when it comes to the value and power of the assembly, but can it bear the burdens modern application would impose upon it? Are we rightly handling this word of truth in the ways in which we refer to it and apply it (cf. 2 Timothy 2:15)?

Our first task must be to understand Hebrews 10:25 in the context of what the Hebrews author is saying and doing. Hebrews 10:25 comes at the end of the core exhortation the Hebrews author is making based on all the arguments and demonstrations he has made regarding the superiority of Jesus and the covenant in His blood over all that came before:

Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by the way which he dedicated for us, a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having a great priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in fulness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience: and having our body washed with pure water, let us hold fast the confession of our hope that it waver not; for he is faithful that promised: and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works; not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day drawing nigh (Hebrews 10:19-25).

The Hebrews author makes his thesis and provides three points of exhortation in application, and does so in a particular order. Christians have boldness to enter the presence of God in Jesus’ blood through the veil of His flesh and with Him as priest (Hebrews 10:19-21). Christians thus must draw near to God with a true heart in fullness of faith (Hebrews 10:22). Having received cleansing in baptism, Christians must hold fast to their confession in hope, for God who has promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23). Christians must consider one another as fellow Christians to provoke, or stir up, to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24).

The Hebrews author’s exhortation to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together thus does not stand on its own; it is directly dependent on, and thus a subset of, the exhortation to consider one another to stir one another up to love and good works. His concern about the forsaking of the assembling is intensified by what he says afterward: those who sin deliberately have no hope of redemption, but a fearful expectation of judgment (Hebrews 10:26-31); the recipients of the letter ought to remember the afflictions they endured beforehand, having jointly participated in the sufferings of those reviled for the faith, and ought not cast off the boldness they had, which would provide a great reward (Hebrews 10:32-35); they need patience to receive the promise after having done the will of God, not becoming those who shrink back to perdition, but as those who have faith in the salvation of their souls (Hebrews 10:36-39).

From Hebrews 10:26-39, along with many other aspects of the Hebrews letter, we can perceive how the Hebrews author is deeply concerned about the faith of the recipients of his letter: he is worried they are losing heart and are at risk of apostatizing through backsliding. A sign of this apostasy would be if and when they would abandon the assembling together of themselves, as some already had; they would miss out on exhortations to love and good works, and it might not take long after that for them to renounce their confession and pull away from God in Christ.

Thus the Hebrews author is very concerned that those who read his letter might abandon the faith; based on his choice of term in Hebrews 10:25, such concern begins with the abandonment of the assembly. “Forsaking” is the Greek egkataleipontes, a present participle of the verb that means “to forsake, abandon, leave in the lurch.” It is the same word Paul uses to describe what Demas did when he loved this present world and went to Thessalonica in 2 Timothy 4:10; he would again use it to describe how all abandoned him at his first defense before Caesar in 2 Timothy 4:16. In Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34 it translates the cry of abandonment Jesus cited from Psalm 22:1. All of these examples represent serious forms of abandonment; the use of the present participle would suggest a continuous or repeated action, consistent with the Hebrews author’s concerned about those who had made such forsaking/abandonment a “custom” or habit (Greek ethos). The Hebrews author therefore does not have in mind some Christians who occasionally miss an assembly here or there; he has in mind those who have abandoned the coming together with fellow Christians, and thus in danger of abandoning their confession and their faith.

For that matter, the Hebrews author also does not specify the nature of the coming together of Christians beyond for exhortation: he uses the Greek episunagogein, a “coming together” or “meeting” of Christians; the term “synagogue” comes from that Greek term, used only elsewhere in the New Testament in 2 Thessalonians 2:1 to describe the gathering together of Christians when the Lord Jesus returns. No doubt such a term would include the likely normative weekly assembling of Christians on the first day of the week to remember the Lord’s death in His Supper, along with preaching, giving, singing, and praying (e.g. Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 14:1-40, 16:1-3, Ephesians 5:19), but the term is not limited to such meetings. It could include meetings as often as daily for encouragement and edification (cf. Acts 2:41-46). It may have involved smaller gatherings of Christians for meals and other activities in joint participation in the faith (1 Peter 4:9-11).

To this end we can understand what the Hebrews author attempts to accomplish: if we are going to consider one another, to stir up to love and good works, we must gather frequently to do so in order to exhort one another. Abandonment of such gatherings is a major warning sign that a Christian is disconnecting from his people and might well thus disconnect from his or her confession and faith in Christ.

In application, therefore, we can see that Christians ought to prioritize gathering together: certainly for the first day of the week assembly, but also at other times. Nevertheless, the assembly of the saints is not prioritized as of the greatest importance here: the Hebrews author prioritizes drawing near to God, then holding firm the confession of our hope, and then considering one another, to stir up to love and good works (Hebrews 10:19-24). Gathering together and exhorting one another is a means by which we consider one another (Hebrews 10:25), consistent with Paul’s exhortation for all things in the assembly to be done for building up in 1 Corinthians 14:26. We come together in the assembly to build up and strengthen one another, stirring one another up in faith to love and good works in exhortation, providing substance and strength to empower and equip each other to continue to serve the Lord Jesus in relational unity, hope, and faith in life.

What does it mean to “forsake” the meeting of Christians? The Hebrews author primarily has in mind those who have fully abandoned joint participation with fellow Christians in the assembly or in smaller gatherings. He does not have in mind those who might miss a meeting here or there, or those who are inconsistent in assembling. It might well be that many Christians have an unhealthy view of the assembly and do not appropriately prioritize participation within it; some might well look for excuses to assemble as infrequently as possible in their carnal ways of thinking. Such attitudes are unhealthy, but they are symptoms of a greater problem; to shame and condemn about not assembling does not reach the heart of the matter. If the greater problem, whatever it may be, is addressed, generally the assembling with the saints will become a more regular occurrence.These concerns are not being addressed by the Hebrews author, however, in Hebrews 10:25, for such people have not abandoned coming together with their fellow Christians. At some point they might; but that moment has not arrived yet, and it cheapens the Hebrews author’s concern to suggest otherwise. These concerns are not being addressed by the Hebrews author, however, in Hebrews 10:25, for such people have not abandoned coming together with their fellow Christians. At some point they might; but that moment has not arrived yet, and it cheapens the Hebrews author’s concern to suggest otherwise.

We do well to remember how the gathering of Christians in Hebrews 10:25 is instrumental to a purpose: considering one another. Without a doubt, the normative practice of early Christians was to assemble on the first day of the week to participate in certain acts of the assembly, with perhaps other gatherings at other times, and we do well to honor and observe the same tradition. But we must remember that such assembling is set forth for us as a normative example; in times of particular emergencies, we might not be effectively considering one another by meeting in person. Thankfully, with modern technology, we have means by which we can consider one another, and even in a sense gather together, without being physically proximate. Under normal circumstances, abandonment of physical presence and the sharing of physical space would not glorify God; nevertheless, under distress, some means of communication and sharing together is better than none. We must not confuse the means to an end with the end itself.

It is important for Christians to come together as the church as a demonstration of the relational unity they share in and with God in Christ. It is right, good, and appropriate for Christians to observe the normative example of early Christians in weekly assemblies to that end; it is even better for Christians to gather together more frequently to consider one another. Nevertheless, the assembly is not the most important thing in the faith; Christians were not made for the assembly, but the assembly for Christians, and the assembly is a means by which Christians consider one another, and not an end unto itself. We consider one another as joint participants in Christ to encourage one another, and all the more as the day draws near; we do that so we might strengthen one another to continue to draw near to God in Christ, and to hold firm our confession in hope without wavering. May we properly discern God’s purposes in revealing Hebrews 10:25, encourage one another in Christ, and obtain the resurrection of life in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Hebrews 10:25 | The Voice 11.34: August 22, 2021

Conclusion | The Voice 11.33: August 15, 2021

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

The Works of the Flesh and the Fruit of the Spirit: Conclusion

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary the one to the other; that ye may not do the things that ye would. But if ye are led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you, that they who practise such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law. And they that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof. If we live by the Spirit, by the Spirit let us also walk. Let us not become vainglorious, provoking one another, envying one another (Galatians 5:16-26).

Paul was greatly concerned for the Galatian Christians, remaining perplexed how they could have so quickly abandoned the Gospel for another message; he defended himself and his ministry and powerfully set forth how justification is by faith in God in Christ and not by works of the Law of Moses (Galatians 1:1-5:15). Such a matter was not “mere” doctrine, for if they accepted circumcision and thus submitted to the whole Law, they would fall from grace in Christ (Galatians 5:1-5). But Paul’s concern for the Galatian Christians went beyond the doctrinal: he wanted to exhort the Galatian Christians so their lives would reflect the kind of conduct demanded by the Gospel message.

We have considered each individual characteristic of the “works of the flesh” and the manifestations of the “fruit of the Spirit” Paul listed in Galatians 5:19-23. Paul did not intend for us to consider each in isolation; he has woven them all together into a composite whole.

Paul has framed the entire exhortation with a clear contrast: Christians ought to walk by the Spirit, and if they do so, they will not fulfill the lust of the flesh (Galatians 5:16). Paul made much of walking by the Spirit as a child of God in Romans 8:1-17; James and John affirm that love of the world is enmity with God, and thus we must resist the lusts of the flesh (James 4:4, 1 John 2:15-17). Paul recognizes that the temptation to fulfill the desires of the flesh is strong; those desires are set against the desires of the Spirit, and this is so in order to keep us from doing what our flesh would want to do (Galatians 5:17). That which is according to the flesh works toward corruption, decay, and nothing good or profitable. Paul understood how the best way forward is to walk by the Spirit, striving to manifest His fruit at all times, motivated not by anxieties and fears in the world but according to the love and strength poured out upon us in Christ. If we are led by the Spirit, we are not under the Law (Galatians 5:18): Paul elaborated on this contrast in Romans 7:1-8:15, considering himself trapped by sin under the law to do what he did not want to do, yet now set free by Christ to walk according to the Spirit.

Paul would go on to set forth the works of the flesh, yet begins his listing with the phrase “the works of the flesh are manifest” (Galatians 5:19-21). The term “manifest” is also translated as “evident,” and for every Christian who seeks the will of God, those things which gratify the flesh to the detriment of the spirit are evident. Most people recognize when they go beyond trying to understand and begin trying to rationalize doing things which are not truly profitable or glorify God.

Paul not only declared that those who participate in the works of the flesh would not inherit the Kingdom of God, but said he had warned them before and thus warned them again (Galatians 5:21). Paul wanted the message emphasized for the Galatian Christians: it is not worth it to mess around with the works of the flesh. We cannot do the will of our Father in heaven and revel in the works of the flesh; God is loving, merciful, gracious, kind, and longsuffering toward us, but is also holy and righteous in His judgment. No Christian should want to stand before Jesus if they have participated in the works of the flesh freely without repentance.

When Paul concluded the manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit, he pointed out how there are no laws against them (Galatians 5:23). They do not lead to condemnation; they give life and hope. With the Spirit there is life and peace; with the ways of the world there is death and division.

Paul thus told Christians to reckon themselves as having crucified the flesh with its lusts and passions (Galatians 5:24). In Romans 6:1-11 Paul considered baptism the point at which the Christian had put to death the man of sin in order to walk in newness of life; earlier in Galatians 2:20 he considered himself as crucified with Christ, and the life he lived he did not live for himself but for the Son of God. The crucifixion metaphor is apt, not only because it is the means by which the Lord Jesus died and overcame the powers of sin and death, but also because it involved not only death but exposure and humiliation. We must reckon the lusts and passions which would drive us to not just be dead, but even as humiliated and exposed for the dead ends they prove to be. We cannot glorify God in Christ if we are always trying to turn back and resurrect our former life for yet another round of sin.

Instead, we must make good on our profession: we must walk according to the Spirit and behave as the Spirit would have us behave (Galatians 5:25). We know what such a life looks like: it manifests the Spirit’s fruit.

Galatians 5:16-26 is not the only time in which Paul lists various sins and characteristics of righteousness; in every letter to churches he will exhort them to resist unholy worldly conduct and toward behaviors which glorify God in Christ. Yet few of the lists are as thorough as the works of the flesh and fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:19-23; the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit is a useful framework through which we can consider all the types of things which Paul has addressed in other passages. That which is consistent with righteousness will manifest the fruit of the Spirit; all that is of the world is explicitly a work of the flesh or something like unto them. May we all seek to walk according to the Spirit, give no quarter to the flesh, and obtain life in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Conclusion | The Voice 11.33: August 15, 2021

Indictment Against Israel and Judah | The Voice 11.32: August 08, 2021

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Indictment Against Israel and Judah

Idolatry and oppression were pervasive in Israel and Judah, emanating forth from Samaria and Jerusalem. YHWH of Armies had noticed; His patience had worn thin. Judgment would soon come. Yet it was appropriate for an indictment to be set forth, and YHWH provided it through Micah of Moresheth.

Micah hailed from Moresheth, a village of the Shephelah or southwest region of Judah, between Lachish and Achzib (Micah 1:1). The reference to Moresheth-Gath in Micah 1:14 most likely indicates a historic or ongoing connection between Moresheth and the Philistine city of Gath. Moresheth was fortified by Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 11:8); it sat upon an important road heading into the southland and eventually to Egypt. Micah prophesied in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah kings of Judah (ca. 740-697 BCE; Micah 1:1), and lived contemporaneously with Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah. He prophesied regarding Samaria and Jerusalem (Micah 1:1).

The prophet Micah set forth YHWH’s indictment against Israel and Judah in Micah 1:2-3:12. All the nations of the earth and the inhabitants therein were summoned to hear the accusations and to see the coming of YHWH in judgment: the mountains would crumble and the valleys would divide like wax in fire and water on a mountain (Micah 1:2-4).

Israelites and Judahites might have been fine with Micah’s summons if he were to issue judgment against the nations. And yet Micah brought terrifying news: YHWH was coming in judgment on account of the rebellion and transgression of Israel and Judah (Micah 1:5)! Their sinfulness had come from what was being done and established in Samaria and Jerusalem (Micah 1:5). Thus YHWH would destroy Samaria: it would become a ruin (Micah 1:6). All the gods they had worshiped and served in Samaria would be destroyed and turned into a waste heap; since Israel gathered them as a whore took her money, so the metal would become money used on whores (Micah 1:7).

The prophet lamented over the fate of Samaria and Israel and would participate in mourning rituals (Micah 1:8). The iniquity of Samaria was reckoned as an incurable disease which had also infected Judah, the leaders of the people, and Jerusalem (Micah 1:9). Micah did not want the news proclaimed among the surrounding nations; the towns and villages of Judah would mourn (Micah 1:10-11). Lachish had caused sin in Zion and should thus prepare for war; the towns and villages around Moresheth would suffer great violence and its people would mourn (Micah 1:12-16).

Micah warned about those with power and devised wicked schemes to seize fields and defraud the less advantaged of their homes and property (Micah 2:1-2). YHWH planned for disaster against the nation; they would no longer have any pride, for calamity would overcome them (Micah 2:3). People would mock them with lament: they would be destroyed and their property sold to those who conquered them, and they would no longer have any portion among the people of YHWH (Micah 2:4-5).

Israelites and Judahites did not want to hear what Micah had to say. They “foamed at the mouth” telling him to stop “foaming at the mouth,” or prophesying with such vehemence; they frowned upon prophets speaking thus, confident they would never be thus humiliated (Micah 2:6). The people presumed YHWH would never thus lose patience and do such things to His people (Micah 2:7). Reward would come to those who followed YHWH’s commands, yet these people proved hostile to such righteousness: they would steal from those close to them, act as if at war with those with whom they should have peace, and defraud widows and orphans of the little they had, and thus would themselves be evicted and their land destroyed (Micah 2:8-10). Micah knew what kind of “foamer at the mouth” they would hear: one who would preach to them of beer and wine (Micah 2:11)!

Yet despite it all YHWH would preserve a remnant of His people. He would gather all who would remain of Israel like a flock of sheep, and their kind would advance before them while YHWH led them (Micah 2:12-13).

In the meantime, Micah had reason to condemn the rulers of Israel. They should know what is just, yet they hate the good and love evil, devouring the people of God as if a stew (Micah 3:1-3). A day of calamity would come for them, and in their fear and distress they would call upon YHWH, but He would hide His face from them, since they had participated in such wickedness (Micah 3:4).

Plenty of prophets acted little better. They would speak peace to those who provided them money, but would condemn any who would not (Micah 3:5). The time would come when they would no longer receive visions or discern omens; their light would grow dark, and they would become ashamed and humiliated, for they would no longer receive the oracles of YHWH (Micah 3:6-7).

Micah was not as those prophets. He took strength from the spirit of YHWH to affirm His justice, and thus spoke against Israel and its sins (Micah 3:8). To this end he spoke to the rulers of Israel, those who hated justice, perverted the right, and saturated Jerusalem and Zion with bloodshed: their leaders took bribes, their priests and prophets served for profit, and yet they presumed they trusted in YHWH and proved confident disaster would be averted by YHWH’s presence among His people (Micah 3:9-11). Because of them Zion would be plowed like a field and Jerusalem made a heap of ruins (Micah 3:12).

YHWH’s indictment through Micah was acerbic and biting. We can understand why the people would have resented such a prophetic warning. Yet would it all come to pass?

In the days of Ahaz and Hezekiah kings of Judah the Assyrians came and conquered all of Israel save Ephraim, and then would besiege and overtake Samaria (732, 722; 2 Kings 15:27-30, 17:1-6). Thus all of what Micah said against Israel and Samaria would come to pass during the days of his prophesying. In the days of Hezekiah king of Judah Sennacherib king of Assyria would invade Judah, overrun Lachish and Micah’s own Moresheth, among other towns of Judah, and besieged Jerusalem (701; 2 Kings 18:13-19:36).

A century later another prophet would speak warnings of YHWH’s condemnation against Judah and Jerusalem, and the people likewise did not want to hear such a message. This time the leaders and the people wanted to kill the prophet, but the elders of Jerusalem were very concerned. They reminded everyone of the message of Micah of Moresheth in Micah 3:12 and rhetorically asked if Hezekiah or the Judahites of the day put him to death (Jeremiah 26:17-19). According to the elders, Hezekiah feared YHWH and begged Him to relent of the disaster of which Micah spoke, and YHWH at that time relented; yet these elders feared for themselves and their own day (Jeremiah 26:19). This is an extraordinary conversation which has been recorded for us, for it represents the only time one prophet’s message was quoted and described or interpreted by another prophet in the Hebrew Bible. Such speaks to how the word of YHWH through Micah was understood by Judahites around 608: they understood him to speak of the invasion of the Assyrians. At least some in Judah continued to hold him in high esteem even though they continued to dwell in Jerusalem which had not been devastated; they considered what Micah had to say in Micah 3:12 as an active danger but one which YHWH did not actually accomplish because He relented of disaster and preserved Jerusalem.

And yet within twenty-five years Jerusalem would be fully destroyed by the Babylonians, and Zion could be plowed like a field as Micah had foretold (586; 2 Kings 25:1-21). The disaster had been delayed, not avoided. The word of YHWH which came through Micah of Moresheth indeed came to pass.

We may now live in a different age and under a different covenant, yet we should heed the word YHWH spoke through Micah. People today presume God is on their side and cannot imagine how any great disaster would overtake them, and continue to participate in all sorts of iniquity. People still wake up every morning thinking of how they can make money at the expense of the poor and marginalized. Idols may not be made of stone or metal but people still serve them. People would still rather hear preaching of beer and wine than sober warnings about the imminent judgment of God. And plenty of the people of God are the first to want to silence and suppress the voices of those among them who would point out inequality, oppression, injustice, idolatry, and the great danger of the judgment of God against His own people. May we seek strength in the Spirit of God to uphold justice and speak and embody His truth in Christ, and find life in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Indictment Against Israel and Judah | The Voice 11.32: August 08, 2021

Promise of Science | The Voice 11.31: August 01, 2021

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

The Promise of Science and Technology

For most of human history, the experience and quality of life generally remained static over generations. Rulers and empires would come and go; humans might come upon an innovation or two; nevertheless, people would generally find life recognizable despite a gap of hundreds of years. Yet such a static understanding of life no longer exists; modern life would seem fantastic to a person who lived two hundred years ago, let alone four hundred years ago. Almost every aspect and domain of our lives has been changed significantly, and much of it has come from scientific and technological developments.

Scientific and technological explorations can therefore manifest great promise. We have come to rely greatly on the ideas, resources, and tools which have been discovered or developed over the past two hundred years. We travel in cars and airplanes; we use various gadgets in our houses in order to maintain comfort and simplify the mundane chores of life; we communicate with people around the world instantly on the Internet; we enjoy abundant food; we have recourse to many effective medicinal treatments of various illnesses and injuries. We have come to explore and investigate the creation around us: we have glimpsed matter smaller than atoms and unfathomably large galaxies; we have explored texts and ancient sites and probably have the best understanding of human history yet known by mankind; we have plumbed many of the mysteries of the working of the creation, from the formation of weather patterns to the effects of solar storms and radiation to the behavioral patterns manifest in the animal kingdom.

As people of faith we have no intrinsic need to fear science and technology. Science has no need to be contrary to faith or belief in God. Many scientists and technological evangelists have thought too highly of themselves and have conceived of a generally barren, cold, and sterile universe; their poverty of imagination is unfortunate, and they have become puffed up in their knowledge but not according to love (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:1).

All that humanity has discovered through science and technology testifies to the power of God our Creator. As scientists have explored the cosmos they have not discovered utter chaos but patterns, forces, and energies which have a beginning and an end. Even the theory of macroevolution, which has caused many believers great consternation, would posit patterns and tendencies in adaptations and changes over time. The universe is therefore comprehensible and the patterns which govern it can be discerned, all of which give glory, honor, and praise to their Creator (cf. Psalm 148:1-14).

David participated in a similar meditative experience in Psalm 19:1-14. He observed the movements of the sun and the stars: they displayed God’s handiwork. They could be seen, charted, and predicted; they maintained consistent patterns; thus something of the work of their Creator could be seen in how they moved (Psalm 19:1-6). David then considered the instruction of God in a similar vein: it could be read, understood, and applied; the work of their Creator was seen in their wisdom (Psalm 19:7-11). David did not want to get caught up in presumptuous sins, going beyond what he could understand; instead he wanted God to be glorified and honored through his meditation (Psalm 19:12-14).

We do well to remember that God made us in His image (Genesis 1:26-27): as He is the Creator of all things, humans made in His image have a strong impulse to create as well. We can pursue scientific and technological exploration in ways which glorify God in Christ if we explore with a view to better understanding the greatness of the creation God has made so that we can more fully glorify and honor Him.

We can learn much about God in His creation (cf. Romans 1:18-20). Humanity has suffered greatly from many of the maladies present in this corrupted and decaying world, and yet God has also provided within it tools and resources to mitigate or overcome many of these difficulties. Every great scientific or technological development has come through observation and development of the materials God has made. Many of our modern medicines derive from animal and plant resources; as we come to a better understanding of animals, bacteria, plants, and viruses at the genetic level we will no doubt develop even more effective therapies. Our modern civilization remains powered by fossil fuels, a legacy left in the ground for us; as we shift to renewable sources of energy we still remain dependent on the forces God has made and the energy He has provided in them.

The Bible does not frown upon scientific and technological advancements: people in the Bible sailed on boats, rode on chariots, and utilized bronze and iron implements. A life eschewing scientific and technological knowledge and improvements is not considered glorified or noble; Christians are not to place their ultimate confidence in such things, nor should they use them to the detriment of their relational unity with God and with His people (cf. Colossians 2:1-23). Scientific and technological advancements and ideas will pose challenges and difficulties, yet such is our lot in life in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. Our goal must always be to glorify God in all things: in science we can seek to understand better this creation which God has made, and with technology we can leverage the materials and resources God has provided in ways which can make our quality of life better. We may learn of great dangers and difficulties in which we may find ourselves: we ought not to discount such warnings merely because they come from scientists or from those who have discovered various technologies.

The perils of science remain legion; Lord willing, we will consider many of them at another time. Yet the perils of science do not necessarily override its promise. Science and technology provide great promise when explored with appropriate humility and with the view to glorify and honor God by remaining good stewards of His creation and seeking to improve and preserve life. All such scientific and technological exploration and advancement remains possible because of how God has made the creation. May we as Christians find ways to glorify and honor God our Creator through the things which He has made, appreciate and value science and technology as testimonies to what can be done with what God has made, and use them to His glory and honor in all things!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Promise of Science | The Voice 11.31: August 01, 2021

Christians & Assembly | The Voice 11.30: July 25, 2021

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Christians Are Not Made for the Assembly; the Assembly Is Made for Christians

And it came to pass, that [Jesus] was going on the sabbath day through the grainfields; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears.
And the Pharisees said unto him, “Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?”
And he said unto them, “Did ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was hungry, he, and they that were with him? How he entered into the house of God when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the showbread, which it is not lawful to eat save for the priests, and gave also to them that were with him?”
And he said unto them, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: so that the Son of man is lord even of the sabbath” (Mark 2:23-28).

As the Lord Jesus went about doing good for Israel, the Pharisees challenged Him regarding the conduct of His disciples: they had been plucking ears of grain to eat them (Mark 2:23). Such behavior was work, and the Pharisees insisted that all work on the Sabbath was not lawful (Mark 2:24). In response Jesus appealed to the example of David eating sanctified shewbread which was to be only for the priests in 1 Samuel 21:1-7 (Mark 2:26-27). Jesus then made two powerful pronouncements: the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath; the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28). The Sabbath was not to be an imposition, burden, or a form of oppression; it was a display of liberation, joy, and peace. To weigh the Sabbath down with strictures was to bleed it of its energy, joy, and nourishment.

Christian participation in the assemblies of the saints maintains many parallels with the Jewish observance of the Sabbath. It would go too far to call Christian assemblies the “Christian sabbath”; we will obtain our Sabbath when we rest in Jesus as we await the resurrection of life (Hebrews 4:1-11). And yet it was Jewish practice in the Second Temple Period (and well afterward) to assemble in the synagogues and devote time to prayer, song, the reading of the Scriptures, and to hear a message from its pages (cf. Luke 4:16-28, Acts 13:14-15ff). Furthermore, the Lord Jesus has established guidelines for the types of activities which ought to be done in the assemblies of Christians, just as God established guidelines for the observance of the Jewish Sabbath (e.g. Exodus 35:2-3, Deuteronomy 5:12-15, 1 Corinthians 14:1-40). Therefore, Christians can be tempted to treat their assemblies in the same way as the Pharisees treated the Sabbath. To this end we do well to declare and affirm that the assembly was made for Christians, not Christians for the assembly, for Jesus our Lord, the Son of Man, is Lord of the Assembly.

The Lord’s people are known for their emphasis on participation in the assembly of the saints. In many respects the concern is healthy: a body that does not feature the joint participation and manifestation of its unity in assembling is not much of a body at all; what kind of assembly does not have its constituent members frequently assemble? The Lord’s Supper ought to reflect the unity of the body of Christ in a given place and time (1 Corinthians 10:16-17, 1 Corinthians 11:17ff); how can it do so if many of the members are not present?

And yet an emphasis on the assembly can become toxic, unhealthy, and idolatrous when distortions of the meaning, purpose, and execution of the assembly arise, assembly participation is equated to faithfulness, and the assembly is prioritized over all things. In all such things we must remember how Christians were not made for the assembly, but the assembly for Christians.

According to what the New Testament explicitly says, Christians came together at least on the first day of the week to edify (build up) and encourage (strengthen) one another through the acts of the assembly (1 Corinthians 14:26, Hebrews 10:25). They would pray, sing, give, publicly read the Scriptures, partake of the Lord’s Supper, and proclaim the Word of God in the Gospel to glorify God in building up and strengthening one another (Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 14:1-40, 1 Timothy 4:13, 2 Timothy 4:1-4). These things were to be done decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40): according to 1 Corinthians 14:1-39, such involved making sure people were not speaking over each other, talking at the same time, unable to understand the substance of the prayer, message, or whatnot, and for all to follow God’s order in the creation. At no point in the Scriptures or in the language of 1 Corinthians 14:40 is there an expectation for the assembly to be dour, lifeless, and excessively formal. Such “innovations” have been justified in the name of venerating God in “worship.” As we have addressed before here, here, and here, English conflates two distinct Hebrew and Greek terms and concepts under the word “worship,” “prostration,” of which the New Testament betrays no evidence of Christians practicing in their assemblies, and “religious service,” which is assuredly true of all of the acts of the assembly but also of plenty of other actions Christians perform in life. Thus, to impose a certain standard of dress beyond modesty, or to expect some kind of sanctified silence, or a complete absence of the expression of emotion, is to go beyond what is written or expected in the assemblies of Christians according to the New Testament. The assembly of the saints should be a time of strengthening and refreshment, a joy to be in the presence of our people in Christ; it is not to be made a dour burden in the name of cultural conventions begotten in denominational distortions. Christians were not made for the assembly; the assembly was made for Christians.

The Apostles certainly expected Christians to come together frequently in the assembly (1 Corinthians 14:1-40, Hebrews 10:24-25); what kind of assembly is it if its constituent members do not frequently assemble? Yet at no point does the New Testament impose presence and participation in the assembly as the means by which the faithfulness of a Christian is displayed before God and His fellow people. The New Testament betrays no indication that any Christian was disassociated from because s/he was not assembling; plenty of Christians who were faithfully assembling required repentance to maintain their standing before God (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, Ephesians 2:1-8). We can imagine many circumstances in which a Christian would be continually hindered from jointly participating with his or her fellow Christians in the assembly, yet would do so if they could, and in no way have apostatized from the faith: those who find themselves shut in because of age or disability; some in unique employment circumstances; others who may be incarcerated; and so on. Yes, indeed; continual forsaking of the assembly by choice represents at best misplaced priorities and at worst an indication of some underlying challenge with sin, and these matters ought to be addressed. Yet again, the assembly is to be a joy and a place of rest and relief for Christians, not a burden or obligation; it is but the least of activities of faithful service in the Kingdom, giving strength and equipping in faith to endure the challenges of advancing God’s purposes and Jesus’ Lordship in every other domain of life the rest of the week. Christians who tend to assemble frequently with fellow Christians will likely be more mature and stronger in faith; and yet such is not axiomatic, and we must remember that the assembly is not a badge of fidelity but a continual opportunity to embody the Lord Jesus to one another and share in Him. Christians were not made for the assembly; the assembly was made for Christians.

Christians do well to treat the assembly as an important dimension of their lives in faithfulness to the Lord Jesus; yet nothing in Scripture would lead us to believe the assembly is to be esteemed as all-important. We do well to consider an “updated” edition of Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37): would a Christian who saw a person in need on the side of the road but who rushed on to participate in the assembly of the saints find any greater justification than the priest and the Levite who found the man upon whom robbers fell and passed by on the other side? By no means! To love one’s neighbor as oneself demands inconvenience at inopportune times. Christians do well to remember the Lord’s denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees for their fastidious devotion to the details while missing the “weightier matters” of justice, mercy, and faith; in Matthew’s parallel account to Mark 2:23-28, Jesus quoted Hosea 6:6 and declared that if the Pharisees had understood how God desires mercy, not sacrifice, they would not have condemned the innocent (Matthew 12:7; cf. Matthew 12:1-8).

Situations arise in which the most prudent, wise, and godly decision means Christians will not assemble, or the assembly itself will be canceled. A Christian called to assist a person in need when they would otherwise be assembling is loving his neighbor as himself, and has honored the weightier matter in the faith. In the face of natural disasters, a pandemic, or a moment of civil unrest, governmental authorities may encourage churches to cancel their assemblies; such is not persecution, but the government performing its function of seeking the welfare of its citizens, and Christians do well to honor authorities in such circumstances (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:11-18). Even without governmental request a congregation may decide to cancel assemblies because of such emergencies. Such a decision does not demand that they have become soft or they do not wish to honor their Lord.

We could imagine that a congregation could become lax in its concern about the assembling of the saints; such Christians should be reminded of the importance and power in frequent building up and strengthening of the people of God through joint participation in the acts of the assemblies. Yet in all such things we do well to remember that each local congregation stands like a candlestick before its Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Revelation 1:12-13, 20); the Lord Jesus arranges the candlesticks as He wills, and they remain in His presence or are removed based on His judgment alone. Thus, as it is for Christians, so it is for congregations in such matters: who are we to judge our neighbor? Before their Master and ours they will stand or fall, as shall we (Romans 14:10-12, James 4:11-12). We ought to remember that God desires mercy, not sacrifice or smug sanctimonious judgmentalism, and we ought not condemn the guiltless.

For, in the end, Christians are not made for the assembly; the assembly is made for the building up and strengthening of Christians. May we continually assemble with one another to edify and encourage one another until the Lord Jesus returns to His glory and honor!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Christians & Assembly | The Voice 11.30: July 25, 2021

Self-Control | The Voice 11.29: July 18, 2021

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Fruit of the Spirit: Self-Control

The Apostle Paul would not compromise on the healthy doctrine which he had taught the Galatian Christians and warned them against apostasy by holding to the Law of Moses (Galatians 1:1-5:16). His concern for doctrine did not demand a neglect of practice: he insisted upon avoiding the works of the flesh and manifesting the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:17-24). Paul spoke of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law.

Love well defined the whole of the fruit of the Spirit. Joy and peace speak to a disposition which Christians ought to maintain; longsuffering/patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness well demonstrate an appropriate disposition. Paul concluded the manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit with egkrateia, “self-control.”

Paul reasoned with Felix regarding self-control (Acts 24:25); Peter expected Christians to add self-control to their faith, virtue, and knowledge, in order to show patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love (2 Peter 1:5-8).

Self-control represents the great anchor of the fruit of the Spirit and of righteousness. Christians must not allow themselves to be brought under the power of anything of this world (1 Corinthians 6:12). The powers and principalities over this present darkness draw strength whenever we give ourselves over to our anxieties, fears, and lusts, and thus do according to their will (Ephesians 2:1-3, 6:12). If we would avoid sin and embrace righteousness, we must take control over our desires. We must not allow ourselves to be intoxicated by anything; to this end we must remain sober-minded, not enticed by desire or lulled into complacency, proving unprepared for the Lord’s return (1 Thessalonians 5:1-10).

Self-control must be exercised in every aspect of life and in every discipline. In terms of sexuality we must display chastity and to honor the marriage bed (Hebrews 13:4). We should consider our time and material resources as blessings from God with which we might bless others, and find ways to redeem the time and our resources to help those in need, to speak and act as the Christ, and to represent the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16, Ephesians 4:28, 5:18). Yet self-control involves much more than just sexuality and money.

James did well to speak of the tongue as a world of iniquity: like fire, the tongue can quickly devastate beyond repair (James 3:2-12). How many relationships have been damaged or destroyed because a person did not exercise self-control in what they said? We must consider well what we would speak before we say it and wonder whether it ought to be said at all. Indeed, we should make sure that our words build up and give grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29).

Yet every deed we do and every word we speak was first something we thought in the mind. We cannot imagine that we will display self-control in our deeds and our words if we do not exercise self-control in the mind. To this end we must focus on what is good, commendable, honorable, and what would build up (Philippians 4:7-8).

From the elementary school playground to the office of marriage therapists the cry is heard: “he made me do it!”. And yet no one really makes us do anything. We must remember that we cannot control the behavior of others: we will each stand or fall before our Master; it is not for us to judge or try to compel or coerce anyone else into doing anything (Romans 14:1-12, Galatians 6:3, James 4:11-12). But we always have control over how we think, feel, act, and respond toward others. We will be held accountable for how we treat other people and whether we displayed the self-control, patience, and grace toward others which we desired for them to demonstrate toward us (Matthew 25:31-46, Romans 14:10-12). We cannot control others; but we can control ourselves, and we can decide to do good rather than evil, and not respond in kind when others do evil against us (Romans 12:17-21, 1 Peter 2:18-25). To this end we do well to display self-control in all things.

Having set forth the manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit, Paul then suggested that there is no law against such things (Galatians 5:23). Such is generally true: you do not often see laws against love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and the like. We have no reason to fear the authorities if we display the fruit of the Spirit toward one another in Christ and toward all; even if the authorities did find some reason to accuse us, we know that if we manifest the fruit of the Spirit we will receive commendation from our heavenly Father (Matthew 10:28, 1 Peter 2:11-12).

Thus Paul set forth the manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit. While many speak of the fruit of the Spirit as “fruits,” as if plural, the Greek text, as well conveyed in English translations, speaks of it as a singular fruit. The fruit of the Spirit stand or fall together; we cannot imagine we can demonstrate certain manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit yet not others. How can we show love if we have no patience, kindness, or gentleness? What peace can be found without love, patience, and self-control? Why would we bother demonstrating kindness if we have no goodness? We either manifest the fruit of the Spirit in its fullness or we are not truly of Him.

We all recognize how the world would be a better place if we all did better at manifesting love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We do well to dedicate ourselves to thinking, feeling, and behaving accordingly. But we must also remember that Paul did well to speak of such things as the fruit of the Spirit: they belong to Him. Those who live by the Spirit will indeed demonstrate His fruit (cf. Romans 8:1-15). Yet we confess our inability to do so through our own unaided efforts alone; the Spirit helps us in our weaknesses, and we must remain open to His prompting to think, feel, and do what is consistent with His holiness and nature and not continually give into our own carnal temptations and the temptations of the powers and principalities over this present darkness. May we all manifest the fruit of the Spirit to God’s glory and honor and obtain eternal life in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Self-Control | The Voice 11.29: July 18, 2021